New views of the engineering skills shortage

Engineers Australia has launched its latest statistical overview of the engineering profession in Australia, which it says sheds light on the concerning state of the engineering workforce.

The report, now into its 15th iteration, is based on Australian census data and offers high-level insights about the engineering workforce. This edition covers the 2016-2021 census surveys and for the first time is complemented by an interactive dashboard that allows users to explore the data in detail.

Engineers Australia says the report highlights the magnitude and importance of the engineering workforce; about half a million qualified engineers are working on urgent challenges such as climate change, the clean energy transition, and complex infrastructure needs. Engineers Australia also notes that the engineering skills and labour shortage is at its highest level in over a decade, with demand for engineering skills outpacing supply.

“This report reveals a growing gulf, with Australia sliding towards a ‘new norm’ of an economy hampered by an engineering skills shortage,” says Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew.

“The implications range from delays to nation-building projects, stifled productivity, and low growth; failing to reach our net-zero goals and missing out on the next wave of wealth creation in eco-technology and innovation.

“Government, industry, the tertiary education sector, and professional associations must act now, working together to overcome challenges and greenlight action.”

The data in the report provides some clues about how to do this.

Female participation in the engineering workforce is low. According to the report, only 17.7 per cent of engineering graduates are women, with 18.9 per cent enrolment. Of all qualified engineers in Australia, 16 per cent are women, with 76 per cent of them born overseas. The report underscores the need for coordinated national efforts, focusing on retaining women in engineering.

The high percentage of overseas-born engineers is not restricted to women. Engineers born overseas comprise 62.7 per cent of the qualified engineer population, yet there is still a large cohort of migrant engineers who are not working in their profession. Engineers Australia says government and industry need to support migrant engineers to obtain employment in engineering roles when they migrate to Australia.

Other measures recommended by Engineers Australia include trying to increase the number of engineering graduates, addressing the impending “retirement cliff”, and lifting the voice of engineering in the public sector to support practical decision-making.

Although the report provides broad data across the engineering profession, it is limited by the census data, and does not include detailed information on branches of engineering such as HVAC&R and building services. It also acknowledges that engineers work in a variety of roles that are not always classified as “engineering”.

The report and the accompanying data dashboard are available on the Engineers Australia website.

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